The one problem I was not expecting to encounter during quarantine was getting a lot more headaches during my time at home.
There were days when I’d feel pain in front of my head after timing out from a long day at work, which I used to attribute to a weird sleeping schedule. When I fixed that and the pain persisted, I found out that there was another cause for my headaches: Eye strain.
Although this symptom isn’t new, it’s certainly gotten a lot more attention during the pandemic—with more people looking up phrases like “is a headache a sign of coronavirus” on Google. The good news is that there’s a high chance your headache isn’t COVID-related; it probably stems from the amount of time you’ve spent in front of your TV, phone or computer screen in recent days.
What does eye strain feel like?
If you’ve ever wondered why your eyes feel tired after looking at screens for long periods of time, it’s because we tend to blink less when we do so. People normally blink around 18 times a minute on average, but staring at a computer and smartphone screens leads to us blinking half as often as we normally do—which leads to our eyes feeling dry and itchy.
Another telltale sign that your eyes are working overtime is if your vision starts to get blurry. If your vision clears up after blinking, you could be dealing with dry eyes. If your eyes get blurry at the end of the day, that could be a sign of mild farsightedness aggravated by long hours of work in front of a screen.
So where do the headaches come in?
According to experts, headaches and eye strain intersect in a number of ways. People who have been plagued by migraines tend to be more visually sensitive, which is why spending time with electronics may cause more headaches.
Eye strain can also be a trigger for headaches. “If your eyes become dry or painful, it sends a pain signal to your brain and also to the same area of your brain that deals with migraine headaches,” says optometrist Jennifer L. Stone.
Most of the time, however, eye strain is seen as a symptom of headache syndromes. Tension headaches, for example, can trigger symptoms of eye strain. Cluster headaches and sinus pressure can also cause increased sensitivity to light.
Is there any way to avoid it?
If your headaches are lingering around longer than they usually do, it’s a good idea to talk to your healthcare provider to rule out other underlying conditions. Experts also recommend getting in touch with your ophthalmologist to get your prescription checked or if you need it changed.[READ: Here’s where you can get medical consultations via phone call]
One of the easiest ways to reduce dry eyes and blurred vision is to incorporate regular breaks into your schedule. Experts recommend using the 20-20-20 rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, look away from your screen and stare at an object located 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
This technique has two benefits: Staring at an item in the distance gives the ciliary muscles, which helps our eyes focus, a break. It also helps our extraocular muscles, which work to keep our eyes aligned as we work in front of computer screens.
Aside from taking breaks from your screen, pay attention to the distance between your eyes and your screen.
Depending on the size of your television, these should be about 10 feet away from you. Desktop computers and laptops, meanwhile, should ideally be two feet away from you. When using your phone, make sure it’s roughly one foot away from your face.